Bloomberg News

Republican Governors Slap Reins on Unions Undeterred by Backlash

December 07, 2011

Dec. 2 (Bloomberg) -- New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has battled teachers association leaders over rewriting tenure rules, while Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels said he’s weighing whether to back curbs on nongovernment unions.

The two are among several Republicans trying to limit the power of organized labor even after a successful bid by another, Wisconsin’s Scott Walker, spurred a recall drive and voters repealed a similar law championed by Ohio’s John Kasich.

Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell, chairman of the Republican Governors Association, said those developments won’t sway his members from pursuing efforts to rein in unions. In some cases, that means expanding the roster of 22 states with right-to-work laws. In others, pending bills would place limits on the reach of labor organizations in government and industry.

“People realize the states that are doing the best on budgets, on job creation” are those with laws barring new workers from being required to join unions, McDonnell said yesterday at a meeting of the group in Orlando, Florida. “You see unions fighting for their lives” in those states, he said.

Lawmakers began enacting such measures in the 1930s, after federal legislation let employers that sign contracts with organized labor fire workers who refuse to join unions, according to the National Right-to-Work Legal Defense Foundation Inc. In 2001, Oklahoma became the 22nd state to add such rules.

Worker Pay

The average worker in a right-to-work state is paid $30,167 a year, or about $5,333 a year less than workers in those that don’t have the rule, according to U.S. Labor Department data.

Indiana’s Daniels said he’s weighing whether to back a pending right-to-work bill. He said such a law would make his state more attractive to businesses considering relocating.

“We’re missing between a quarter and a third of the opportunities because the business has this as a prerequisite,” Daniels said. “That’s a big matter to us, a big deal. In this economy, a state like ours needs every edge it can get.”

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal has also backed legislation to change the way teachers are evaluated and overhauling tenure.

In New Hampshire, the House of Representatives on Nov. 30 failed to override Democratic Governor John Lynch’s veto of a similar measure.

“Today, 130 elected representatives in the House stood with ironworkers, teachers, nurses and firefighters to sustain Governor Lynch’s veto,” Mark MacKenzie, president of the New Hampshire AFL-CIO, said in a statement. “Their vote is a clear signal to all of our elected leaders, in New Hampshire and elsewhere, that attacking the rights of everyday Americans isn’t the key to economic prosperity.”

Recall, Repeal

Overhauling education, adding jobs and cutting the cost of government will top to-do lists for the coming year, according to Republican governors who gathered for two days this week near Walt Disney World in Orlando. Out of 29 Republican governors, 26, plus Luis Fortuno of Puerto Rico, attended the meeting, which held sessions on everything from China trade to politics.

Walker, who took office in Madison in January, faces a recall spearheaded by incensed union leaders after signing a law that limits most collective bargaining to wages and outlaws automatic dues collection from workers’ pay.

Christie, whose 2009 election made him the first Republican to win a statewide New Jersey race since 1997, said he thinks Kasich and Walker may both benefit as taxpayers see savings from the measures they championed.

“Some of this stuff is emotional and it’s cyclical, so you can’t allow yourself to get caught up in that,” Christie said. “If you wind up being governed by polls in this job, then you’re going to be a failure. You are absolutely going to be a failure.”

Union Opposition

Attempts to curb bargaining power are “overreaching,” Brandon Davis, political director of the Washington-based Service Employees International Union, said in a statement.

“The Republican Governors’ Association is interested in advancing a political agenda that caters to the needs of the richest 1 percent rather than the nurses, firefighters, police officers and teachers who care for us when we’re ill, teach our children and keep us safe from harm,” Davis said by e-mail.

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer plans to push for a bill similar to a proposal she raised last year, to revamp the compensation system for public employees and making it easier to fire those who perform poorly, she said in an interview.

Idaho Governor Clement “Butch” Otter earlier this year signed a package of education bills that include limiting union negotiations to salary and benefits alone. Superintendent of Instruction Tom Luna faced a recall drive that failed to gain enough support to get on the ballot, Otter said in an interview. He said after meetings with other Republican state leaders, he doesn’t think a backlash to the changes made in Wisconsin or Ohio will have much effect on similar efforts.

“There’s not anybody who’s going to back off of their original intent because of what Scott’s going through or what John Kasich went through,” Otter said.

--Editor: Ted Bunker, Pete Young

To contact the reporters on this story: Terrence Dopp in Trenton at tdopp@bloomberg.net; Simone Baribeau at simonebaribeau@gmail.com.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Tannenbaum at mtannen@bloomberg.net.


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